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Here’s a midwinter diversion for you. From Slow Muse friend and frequent commenter, Elatia Harris:

3 Quarks Daily is known as one of the blogosphere’s more cerebral haunts, and it occurred to me that habitues of 3QDistan might know a great deal about being broken-hearted by a poem, a song, a building, or most of all an idea. People are okay, too — but are they less interesting and compelling? I’m asking you. I was inspired in this challenge by the Museum of Broken Relationships, a traveling repository of love’s artifacts now in Skopje, Macedonia. The MBR received lots of media attention last fall, but passed us by on 3QD — I hope to remedy that. For some visual inspiration to take the challenge, here’s the link.

3 Quarks Daily

I am compelled by the idea that the enormous cultural thrust usually associated with romantic love has its equivalencies in other domains. I can openly confess to thinking of something other than another person when I hear a love song. For me the object is more typically a particular landscape or the longing for that altered state that happens in a creative fervor. Or of course the total body ecstasy of being with a painting or a building that lands right at the center of me. Maybe true for you as well? (Send your votes to Elatia at elatiaharris AT gmail DOT com.)

great-salt-lake1.jpg
Great Salt Lake, from the air

I leave for Utah tomorrow morning, tending to my mother who suffered a fall. I’ll be in the hospital nonstop, so I doubt I’ll have time for much else (like write, hike, mountain bike, see friends or revisit the Spiral Jetty.) I will be back home on July 31.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

–Mary Oliver

For the last six days I have been conversing with death’s agents, the ones milling outside that cottage of darkness that could soon belong to my mother. She’s still with us, but how much of her and for how long is indeterminate. When she does go, she won’t be sighing, she won’t be frightened, she won’t be full of argument. She may, in her own way, be showing all of us how it’s done.

Daily life came to a standstill for me this week while two beloved nephews went through long and arduous surgeries. One was planned, the other was not. Bless you both, Spencer and Ben, for making it through this part of your health crisis ordeal. During this difficult couple of days I have been in a throe of wonder (yet again a hat tip to Jerry Miller) at every human body with its complement of soft and vulnerable tissues that is healthy and functioning.

For after the first door there are many others, each of which opens up to us a universe we hadn’t expected to exist. These universes are not…the playthings of language. Rather, if we are to trust the testimony of wonder, we are to say they are, each one, a universe of being, holy and wholly real, though we have no access to them except through childlike astonishment. If Socrates was right, the purpose of all thinking is not to get us through that door once and for all but to get us, over and over again, into the throe of opening it. His word for wonder was wisdom.

Jerome A. Miller
In the Throe of Wonder

Nicole Long, poet and friend, sent me this quote from Henri Nouwen:

A few times in my life I had the seemingly strange sensation that I felt closer to my friends in their absence than in their presence. When they were gone, I had a strong desire to meet them again but I could not avoid a certain emotion of disappointment when the meeting was realized. Our physical presence to each other prevented us from a full encounter. As if we sensed that we were more for each other than we could express. As if our individual concrete characters started functioning as a wall behind which we kept our deepest personal selves hidden. The distance created by a temporary absence helped me to see beyond their characters and revealed to me their greatness and beauty as persons which formed the basis of our love.

I know what Nouwen is describing, and I have experienced these feelings at various times in my life. Why the physical domain impacts certain relationships more than others, I do not know. And as the availability of other modes of interaction that do not include a physical presence–phone and online for example–but can deliver their own version of intimacy, the “in the flesh” version of human interaction is morphing as well.

This is a more complex issue than the often voiced concern about people spending too much time online. Nouwen was a priest (often compared with Thomas Merton and Teilard de Chardin) who wrote a great deal about solitude as well as the concomitant longing and need for community. He has been described as a man who had many friends but constantly struggled with a profound sense of loneliness. And while this quote could be viewed as a psychological indicator of his personal struggle with intimacy, it hits on something much more profound.

Walls that protect our “deepest personal selves” appear all the time, and what works to get past them has often surprised me. Like most people, I have intensely personal relationships with people I connect with online, people I have never met in the flesh. An emotional intimacy emerges in those online interactions that would take much longer to achieve in person. And while some of those relationships may be able to transmogrify into full bodied friendships, others may not. But having these options for connection, disembodied though they may be, is like finding a whole new wing of your house you didn’t know was there.